Debunking Some Spin in Jacksonville

Among the attachments in the “Jacksonville Emails” is a copy of a Jacksonville Symphony Players’ Association (JSPA) press release from December 15, 2007 which Jacksonville Symphony Association (JSA) Board Chair, Jim Van Vleck, took the time to add what he described as “‘modifications’ to their claims.” Although only 158 words in length, the document provides an unfiltered look into how the JSA executive board leaders communicate with fellow board members about details surrounding the negotiations…

Below is the original musician press release . Jim Van Vleck’s comments are in italics (you can view the original document here as a pdf file):

In a 15 hour negotiating session ending early this morning, the musicians proposed a contract with major concessions as requested by management, in the amount of $1.25M (only if concessions are defined as asking for a very large increase and then decreasing it-jvv).

Van Vleck’s point would carry more weight if he defined what he describes as a “very large increase.” In fact, according to information released by the JSPA, the musicians last five-year offer before they were locked out included salary improvements that cumulatively lagged behind the rate of inflation by nearly two percent in each year of the proposed contract.

Nevertheless, management refused to change the position that they have taken since the beginning of the lockout. (No, JSA has modified its proposal six times since September 19.–jvv)

This is perhaps the most curious of Van Vleck’s comments as it misrepresents what he wrote in the email message to which this document was attached. In that email message Van Vleck writes “after six proposals, each reducing the amount of requested concessions since September 19, we presented our best and final offer on November 12.” As the lockout was initialed a few days after that proposal, the musician’s original claim mirrors what Van Vleck wrote in the email. However, he attempts to spin those facts by making it appear as though the JSA has adjusted their position since the lockout. Instead, Van Vleck should have used one of his comments from later in the attachment: “We agree.”

Nor are they willing to submit the differences to a neutral arbitrator. (We have been cooperating actively with a Federal Mediator and urging the Musicians to do the same.–jvv)

This covers another important point in negotiations. The musicians have been promoting binding arbitration, an alternative form of negotiation where both parties refer issues to one or more persons by whose decision they agree to be bound. By rejecting that option in favor of Federal Mediation, which has no authority to resolve the conflict, the JSA continues to avoid bargaining in good faith. What that means is that both sides have an honest intent to bargain without taking an unfair advantage over the other or to fulfill a promise to act, even when some legal technicality is not fulfilled. By stipulating to negotiate under such narrow terms, the JSA board has completely removed the one component in strategic planning where musicians have guaranteed influence.

The continuation of the lockout actually threatens the rest of the season, and perhaps future seasons as well. (We agree–jvv.)

This point was confirmed by JSA executive director Alan Hopper in a telephone conversation on 12/19. During that conversation, Hopper acknowledged that early on in the negotiations, the JSA executive board considered options to shut down for the entire season but based on the
organization’s cash-flow in January, that option would be re-examined.

They have indicated that they will be unavailable to negotiate again until the week of January 7, 2008. (No, we said we would meet anytime they were prepared to negotiate within our parameters.–jvv)

This final comment is perhaps the most telling with regard to the JSA executive board position on the negotiations. To date, the musicians have filed an unfair labor practice against the JSA for, among other specific reasons, failure to bargain in good faith.

Stay tuned as future articles will examine more information and debunk any spin in the remaining “Jacksonville Emails

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “Debunking Some Spin in Jacksonville”

  1. This site and a Charleston paper are the only ones giving this subject anything more than superficial coverage.(to my knowledge at least) The lack of media coverage in the Jacksonville market is because the media owners are on the board. The symphony’s hall even bears the name of the local paper. (so much for the liberal media myth)

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